Monday, November 29, 2010

5 Minutes with Summer Thornton

Happy Monday lovelies!

Today I am thrilled to share with you an interview with Chicago based interior designer Summer Thornton.

I stumbled across Summer through Twitter some months ago, and luckily I did because it didn't take long for me to become completely enamored by her work and philosophy. Summer describes her approach to interior design as 'making design unpretentious, fun and fresh', and looking through her portfolio this thinking really shines through.

{one} How do continually find inspiration to create amazing interiors?
I always enjoy finding new types and sources of inspiration, but it hasn't really been difficult to do so far.  It's more like the moment strikes.  I might see a little bird chirping in a tree and notice the color of its beak, or I might see an old metal fence that has a unique pattern, or a photo with layers of texture that just strikes me.  For me though I usually see something, develop an instant obsession, and then I can't sleep until I've figured out a way to reinterpret it into a design.  

I would also say that it is imperative to be engaged in the moment to find inspiration - multitasking and having too much going on doesn't allow the brain or the eyes to wander, explore, and see new things.

Summer saw this tree last time she was in LA and loved the rounded shape and molding/form to it.  
This was one of those 'obsession' things she was talking about for days.

{two} What has been your favorite project or the project you are most proud of?
That's such a tough question to answer.  I love all my projects for different reasons.  Sometimes it is most gratifying when I'm able to encourage a client to take a bit of risk with their design, and in the end they're thanking me for it.  I love when that happens.  I'd say with each project I work on I'm always hungry for the next one.  I thrive to create, and once I'm done developing the concept, I'm always anxious for the next one.  I keep learning, stretching and growing with each they keep getting better and better in my opinion.  I'm most proud of the latest project I did...and I'll probably be most proud of the next one after that.

{three} Who have been your greatest design inspirations &/or mentors?
For interiors, Miles Redd is always pushing the envelope and doing interesting work that inspires me.  I'd love for him to be my 'mentor'.  

I've also always appreciated Kelly Wearstler's work.  They're at the top without a doubt, but I'm oftentimes finding inspiration through non-interiors creative minds, particularly those in fashion, photography, and art.  

Editorial spreads produced by Grace Coddington (Creative Director at Vogue) always challenge and inspire me.  I'm always amazed at how many cutting edge things she can create that are so far ahead of the style curve...and I'm not talking about the clothes, I'm talking about the set, the theme, the broader idea of the shoot.  She's pure creative genius. GENIUS!

"Alice in Wonderland", Vogue Dec '03.  Creative Director: Grace Coddington, photographed by Annie Liebovitz.

"Alice In Wonderland by Summer Thornton"
Photo of this green malachite wallpapered room was inspired by "Alice in Wonderland" photo spread in Vogue Dec '03.  

{four} Do you think design blogs have changed the landscape for interior designers?
Without a doubt!  Design blogs have been a huge blessing for me as a designer.  It's been a great way to share my work, my vision, with a much broader audience.  

Design used to be a business primarily built on family/friend referrals, but I think the design blogs have really opened the doors to a greater awareness of design.  Similarly I think it has helped push better design to the forefront in a much faster fashion.  While I'm a sucker for all glossy pages (I LOVE physical magazines), blogs are instant, fresh, and can fit a variety of unique taste preferences.

{five} I love your piece of advice to ‘do at least one thing your mother wouldn’t' in your home – what did you decide to do?
Everything!  I probably take that further than most people would, but the main point is that you have to be YOU.  Every time my mom comes to my place she says, "There's so much stuff in here".  
My mom's more of a minimalist.  I'm a maximalist.  I love layers and layers - my bookshelves are absolutely covered - looking at them right now I've got a bronze helmet, books, candles, glass domes, an obelisk, a bust, silver urns, geodes/rocks, boxes, lamps, marble eggs, a taxidermy butterfly, a doll head, mirror, carnivale mask, vintage hot air balloon prints, antique photographs, and more.  I also have curtains that have snakes and birds on them - definitely not a mom-friendly pattern!  

My mom also loves all things light and airy, but I'm about to begin a kitchen/bath remodel and I'm doing the kitchen with black lacquered cabinets.  I don't think my mom has anything black in her entire house, and to do the cabinets in black would terrify her.  But I can't wait - they're going to be sleek and sexy!  And while I love my mom, and I even love her style, it isn't mine.

{six} Finally, just for fun; what 5 lovely things can’t you live without?
While I'd hate to lose some material items that are my favorites, I'm sure I could live without them after some mourning, so while some of these may seem cliche, they are really the most important things in my life...

#1 My husband.  He puts up with my crazy design obsession, constant changes to our decor, the explosion of fabrics that used to cover our house, he listens when I need to talk through a design plan, and he challenges me to be a better person.  We met when we were 17, and I'm sure he didn't know what he was getting into at that time.  Plus, he's handsome!  What could be better?

#2 My cousin and co-worker Whitney.  She works with me and we've been best friends since we were babies.  Working with her every day is beyond fun.  How many people get to work with their best friend every day - it's amazing!  She's the perfect compliment to me - she's great at the technical details, she loves cabinetry and plumbing (areas that are much less exciting to me), and she actually enjoys CAD (which I loathe).  Together, we're a great team!  I couldn't do it without her!

#3 My parents.  They've been my constant encourager and they have supported me in my wildest dreams and ambitions.  Beyond providing a great moral foundation, fun childhood, and just being great friends and mentors, they've also helped me so much in my career.  When I was young they let me paint their house, redo their rooms, and make mistakes - it was the best learning experience I could have ever had.  We still laugh about the time I painted a bedroom what we kindly refer to as 'shamrock shake green' - talk about a lesson learned - eek!  Then they put up the initial $500 to get my business started when I was basically broke.  They're amazing parents, and I'm still learning great lessons from them.

#4 Now for some material items...My bedroom lamps.  I found them at a run down old junk store.  They have no actual value, but I'm a lamps fanatic and they are my favorite...bought the pair for about $150 I think, but I wouldn't sell them for anything.  They're these big oversized white ceramic urns with gold detail.  Totally tacky and over-the-top in every way, but that's what I love about them.

#5 My french bergere chairs.  They were a birthday present from my husband a few years ago.  I'll keep them until I die, and I literally think I'll die in one of those chairs.  Now that's a weirdly morbid ending to a question...How about I love those chairs so much and I can't wait to see how many times I reupholster them with different fabrics throughout my life!  Hmmm, that gives me an idea, ha...


Thank you, Summer!


  1. I agree: Grace Coddington is such an inspiration and creative force.

  2. Oh I love Summer Thornton- her apartment is one of my favourite spaces of all time. This was such a great interview- thanks so much for sharing! xo

  3. Not only beautiful but certainly certainly talented. I admire her work...all of it.

    Mr. Goodwill Hunting